July 04, 2013

"Bodies" in Open Space Learning

‘Bodies’ in the context of an interdisciplinary project is a hugely diverse theme and the task of covering the current, relevant debates and topics could seem like a daunting prospect.

The Open Space Learning (OSL) session on Bodies was born from needing to explore what ‘Bodies’ means to an interdisciplinary project, and to begin the process of generating sub-themes and subsequent content for the GK module.

As I come from a Women’s Studies and Sociology background, it felt important to gather ideas from other disciplines and seek help to embrace what ‘Bodies’ means to other disciplines within academia. I know how a Feminist Sociologist might interpret ‘Bodies’, but I needed to know more about how the theme might be understood within differing frameworks.

Open Space Learning is a pedagogic methodology that pursues a move away from the traditional lecture/seminar framework of university teaching and learning, it

“Seeks to offer a transdisciplinary model of pedagogy that has the potential to transform the student experience in higher education by creating conditions in which learning is immediate, enactive and alive” (Monk et al, 2011:1)

Using ‘open spaces’ rather than the more conventional classroom-with-desks, OSL strives to break down the power relationship and hierarchy of the teacher/student model. The members of the group work alongside the facilitator and by collectively and actively engaging with the teaching materials (which could be text, images, objects, performance), seek to produce new and alternative knowledges. (Ibid)

OSL encourages a physical engagement with the materials and a sense of embodiment not possible in the more traditional classroom or lecture setting (Monk et al, 2011:2). It therefore seemed like an obvious choice when planning an event to investigate Bodies and a useful vehicle through which to explore the theme and it’s complexities.

I as facilitator provided a range of images and pieces of text relating to “Bodies” in some way. I divided the group into 2 and gave each group the same resources. I asked the groups to then ‘make sense’ of the images, to discuss their personal and group interpretations and to feedback on their thoughts understandings of the images and discussions.

I wanted to use a variety of images and pieces of texts to instigate discussion, consider sub-themes and what it all means for the GK project and eventual MA module – from both the perspective of teaching methods and content.

There are therefore, 2 main issues to consider when reflecting upon the session itself:

1. With regards to content generation, was the OSL session useful? And

2. With regards to OSL as a teaching method – did it work and could it work for the GK module?

As for content generation, the session resulted in more questions than answers really, but it was still useful. We had some interesting conversations, and there were definitely some ideas to take away.

As a teaching method, it could definitely work, but there are some important issues to consider. Generating images and pieces of text from the facilitator’s perspective is problematic. One sets out with the intention of covering as much as you can, but sometimes, producing and sourcing resources from outside of your discipline or knowledge set, can be difficult. It’s really important to seek outside contributions – I did request images and pieces of text, and did get some very useful contributions, but this could have been more diverse if people were more forthcoming with their own ideas and images/texts.

Also, there is a limit on how many images you should use – too many and the exercise becomes difficult and therefore ineffective. I had to cut out some of the images I had sourced, and found myself regretting my editing choices on the day. Bodies is such a huge theme that perhaps it needed more than one session. That said, I was (am) a complete novice at facilitating this kind of seminar/workshop/session and so somebody with more expertise would probably have made more use of the method and therefore generated more useful results.

The OSL framework incites debate and discussion, and encourages and enables the questioning of your own interpretations of a range of materials. I will definitely be making time to learn more about this as a teaching method, and using it in my own teaching as well as recommending it in the creation of the GK module.


Monk, N et al, (2011) Open Space Learning: A study in transdisciplinary pedagogy, London: Bloomsbury

June 18, 2013

Science, Scientists and Feminism: How do you do what you do? – some reflections

Following an invitation by Dr Gaynor Sharp, a chemist, feminist, artist and STEM Ambassador, Professor Patricia Murphy, Dr Jacky Lawrence and Katerina Pateraki met with students and academic staff at the Universityof Warwickto discuss what science and feminism mean to them.

Patricia is Professor of Pedagogy and Assessment at the Open University with a focus on STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics); Jackie is Head of Warwick County Council’s Energy Team, where she is responsible for developing and implementing the county’s Energy Policy for properties; Katerina is Assistant Lecturer in Humanitarian Engineering who specialises in emergency planning of natural disasters, health and humanitarian assistance. Whilst working in different fields, the three women share a passion for science.

Although the history of women scientists can be traced back at least 4000 years, they are still underrepresented in STEM careers. Recent studies show that women scientists earn still less than their male colleagues, that they are excluded from ‘Old Boys’ Clubs’ and that they are less likely to be promoted.

STEM ambassadors try to make science, technology, engineering and maths more inclusive. They encourage children of all genders, ethnic and social backgrounds to engage with STEM subjects and to consider careers in these fields.

Although it is important to encourage women and girls to pursue careers in STEM subjects, it would be wrong to reduce the feminist engagement with science to a call for more gender equality within the existing structures. Feminist thinkers critically interrogate the ways how science is done and taught, and they actively contribute to the body of scientific knowledge.

In 1938, Virginia Woolf famously declared'science, it would seem, is not sexless: he is a man, a father and infected too'.[1] According to Woolf and other feminist critics, scientific models and methods are not as objective and neutral as they might seem. Take the story of the sperm and the egg, for example. Do you still remember what you have learnt about the fertilisation of the egg in school? This story might sound familiar to you:

‘The egg is […] large and passive. It does not move or journey, but passively “is transported,” “is swept,” or even “drifts” along the fallopian tube. In utter contrast, sperm are small, “streamlined,” and invariably active. They “deliver” their genes to the egg, “activate the developmental program of the egg,” and have a “velocity” that is often remarked upon. Their tails are “strong” and efficiently powered. Together with the forces of ejaculation, they can “propel the semen into the deepest recesses of the vagina.” For this they need “energy,” “fuel,” so that with a “whiplashlike motion and strong lurches” they can “burrow through the egg coat” and “penetrate” it.’ (Martin 1991, p. 489)

In her 1991 essay ‘The Egg and the Sperm: How Science Has Constructed a Romance Based on Stereotypical Male-Female Roles’, Emily Martin analyses scientific literature on the subject. Her critical analysis of textbooks shows ‘how “femininely” the egg behaves and how “masculinely” the sperm’ (ibid). Martin rejects this ‘scientific fairy tail’ of the fertilisation of the egg, because it fails to account for the complex interaction between the egg cell and the sperm cell. Recent research supports her critique.

Martin and other feminist thinkers argue that, implicitly or explicitly, all knowledges are gendered and situated. This does not mean that we have to give up on objectivity. The feminist biologist Donna Haraway, for example, promotes a notion of feminist objectivity that acknowledges the situated and partial nature of all knowledge. ‘Feminist objectivity’, notes Haraway, ‘means quite simply situated knowledges’ (Haraway 1988: 581). In a similar vein, the feminist philosopher Sandra Harding argues that it increases rather than diminishes the objectivity of research projects if authors introduce a ‘subjective element’ into the analysis (Harding 1987: 9). According to Harding the ‘best feminist analysis insists that the inquirer her/himself be placed in the same critical plane as the overt subject matter, thereby recovering the entire research process for scrutiny in the results of research’ (ibid.).

Drawing on Donna Haraway, Judith Butler and other thinkers, the feminist physicist Karen Barad argues that scientists do not merely describe and observe the world as it is. They engage in material-discursive practices that ‘make some identities or attributes intelligible (determinate) to the exclusion of others’ (Barad 2007: 208). According Barad, ‘[o]bjectivity and agency are bound up with issues of responsibility and accountability. Accountability must be thought of in terms of what matters and what is excluded from mattering’ (ibid.: 184).

It should be clear by now that when using the term ‘gendered knowledges’, we mean not only theories and methodologies about gender and sexuality (although they are central to our project). The Gendered Knowledges Project seeks to account for the gendered nature and situatedness of ideas, methods and spaces across the disciplines and to explore radical ideas and pedagogies that tend to be excluded from mattering in an academic context.



Barad, Karen (2007) Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning, Durham: Duke UP.

Haraway, Donna. 1988. ‘Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective’,Feminist Studies,14 (1988), 575-99.

Harding, Sandra. 1987. Feminism and Methodology: Social Science Issues (Bloomington, Ind. and Milton Keynes:IndianaUniv.P./Open Univ. P.).

Martin, Emily. 1991. ‘The Egg and the Sperm: How Science Has Constructed a Romance Based on Stereotypical Male-Female Roles’,Signs:Journal of Women in Culture and Society,(16) 1991, 485-501.


May 27, 2013

The essay as a form of assessment

Writing about web page http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/26/the-essayification-of-everything/

In a New York Times blog post, French Studies lecturer Christy Wampole writes of the difference between the kind of "essay" we usually write - and have our students write - these days, and the type of "essay" written by Montaigne, the 16th-century Frenchman who pioneered the genre. "Essai" means "attempt" - it was a way of trying out an idea, of making a suggestion and seeing how it worked - of "groping" around a topic, as Adorno put it. Now, of course, what is called an essay, particularly in an academic context, has almost the opposite properties:

Much of the writing encountered today that is labeled as “essay” or “essay-like” is anything but. These texts include the kind of writing expected on the SAT, in seminar papers, dissertations, professional criticism or other scholarly writing; politically engaged texts or other forms of peremptory writing that insist upon their theses and leave no room for uncertainty; or other short prose forms in which the author’s subjectivity is purposely erased or disguised. What these texts often have in common is, first, their self-conscious hiding of the “I” under a shroud of objectivity. One has to pretend that one’s opinions or findings have emanated from some office of higher truth where rigor and science are the managers on duty.

Second, these texts are untentative: they know what they want to argue before they begin, stealthily making their case, anticipating any objections, aiming for air-tightness. These texts are not attempts; they are obstinacies. They are fortresses. Leaving the reader uninvited to this textual engagement, the writer makes it clear he or she would rather drink alone.

By contrast, the older essay-writing mode

is defined by contingency and trying things out digressively, following this or that forking path, feeling around life without a specific ambition: not for discovery’s sake, not for conquest’s sake, not for proof’s sake, but simply for the sake of trying.

It's unclear whether Wampole is advocating or simply describing a contemporary return to this older form - an ambiguity she seems to leave deliberately open in her avoidance of an air-tight argumentation style. Her blog-post-cum-essay is rich with nuance, situating random ideas next to each other, and refusing to alight on any particular conclusion. It is exploratory rather than decided.

This struck me as having a lot of overlap with our own pedagogical goals in the Gendered Knowledges project. Something we've been grappling with is how to fit the requirements of assessment into a Gender and Sexuality Studies course that is taking an exploratory, subjective attitude, and that is open to students from all academic backgrounds. Perhaps opening up academic writing forms to greater flexibility, and greater subjectivity, could be one potential answer to this quandary. We could encourage students to attend to their own thoughts, and their own lives, through a writing style that meanders in and out of the theoretical concepts they're learning in a non-linear, non-argumentative fashion. A kind of un-exam.

What do you all think of this as a method? What could be some problems with it for the modules we're designing?

May 21, 2013

Power and the text: Axioms of thought in the contemporary university

Writing about web page http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/iatl/funding/fundedprojects/strategic/genderedknowledges/themes/power

A few weeks ago now we had a film event in which we watched and then discussed Meek's Cutoff(Kelly Reichardt, 2010). It was a really interesting session with a great, interdisciplinary set of participants contributing!

One of the main aims was to see how it would work to discuss a film text with an interdisciplinary group of people - to see whether we would agree on methodologies and so on, or whether there would be big differences or even disagreements.

I chose Meek's Cutoffbecause from a Film Studies perspective, it's a really interestingly put-together film that, I would argue, incorporates feminine modes of vision into its very construction of shots and sequences. It's about a small group of families on the Oregon Trail in 1845 who get increasingly lost and desperate in their desert crossing. It's been called a 'feminist western' because it's told largely from the point of view of the wives/mothers in the group, rather than the men. It therefore raises interesting questions about how cinematic traditions of representation may be subtly coded as masculine.

What I found was that there was actually a great deal of overlap in terms of the language, theories and concepts used by various Humanities and Social Science disciplines to discuss texts. The Film Studies participants had perhaps a more nuanced understanding of the physical construction of the film and the artistic and industrial decisions that went into making it, but then that's their job! We all shared a common language in which to talk about cinema as encoding power relations in terms of both narrative and visual elements.

I have accordingly added 'Power and the text' as a sub-theme within the Power theme of the Gendered Knowledges project website - a strand of thought that is broadly shared across many disciplines.

One thing we should pay more attention to, I think, about interdisciplinary Gender and Sexuality Studies is that most of the Humanities and Social Sciences since the 1970s have broadly shared a common set of theoretical assumptions, particularly as regards power and the text. Interdisciplinarity in these areas seems to be inclined towards the theory behind these assumptions - especially Foucault and Butler these days, but it used to be more Freud. (When exactly did this shift occur and why?) And Marx has been a constant through many decades, having survived this shift intact.

So although we may disagree on particular issues, it seems easy to find common ground when we talk about high-level issues. This is nice and makes for some great interdisciplinary events, but it could also be a negative thing in some ways. At the highest level, there's not that much variety in terms of ideological assumptions and theories about the goals of academic study. I've recently been reading Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed(which merits a whole post in its own right, to follow!), and it's a bit astounding how he takes as axiomatic that the only possible end of any truly rational enquiry is to become a Marxist and fight oppression. A similar assumption, I would argue, underpins the structures of academia: given the way peer review, hiring/promotion, PhD recruitment and conferral, even undergraduate exam and essay marking all work, genuine alternatives and dissenting voices that may challenge these assumptions are virtually nonexistent within the academy.

Meanwhile as we continue to pursue these admirably radical intellectual goals, we allow our universities to be taken over, virtually uncontested, by a neoliberalist managerial class with aims that are actually quite hostile to this enormous body of radical intellectual work. And as Sabine Hark points out, they very often make inroads using precisely the language of interdisciplinarity, which seems able to stretch to mean both very radical things and deeply conservative, neoliberal things simultaneously.

Hey guys, maybe we should be thinking more about how to actually live these principles in our working lives? Just sayin'.

Anyway, the Gendered Knowledges project is actually a great example of the uncomfortable ways that neoliberal and radical issues often cohabit within university space. It is, of course, a project funded by the neoliberal management of Warwick, with concrete aims like setting up an interdisciplinary (there's that word!) MA module and running a series of events that will enrich the intellectual life of Warwick and so on. Yet on an intellectual level, here we are considering radical pedagogies that actually challenge the deepest structures of the neoliberal university, wondering how we can possibly teach students to genuinely think for themselves while still subjecting them to traditional assessment and thus satisfying the bureaucratic needs of the university. Like so many academics, we are radical in our thought, buying into this shared body of radical theory that is axiomatic within the Humanities and Social Sciences, yet we stop short of any genuine challenge to the system.

Am I the only one who thinks that this situation has become rather stagnant and hollow?

May 01, 2013

Some Thoughts on Going ‘Trans–‘

El Topo leaving for a plateau.

At the first meeting of our group we had a rather stimulating discussion about the political underpinnings of such fashionable concepts as inter-, multi- and trans-disciplinarity, guided by the theoretical exposition offered by Hark (2007). One of the questions that emerge in Hark’s (2007) paper, and on which we have spent a considerable amount of time, is how seriously we should treat the critical aspirations of some such projects, given how comfortably they often sit within the politics of the academia - itself situated in the neoliberal market - and their ambiguous relation to the ordinary disciplinary structures. The challenge for the Gendered Knowledges in particular, it appears, is how to think critically of the institutions of the Higher Education, which not only provide the material conditions for our work, but also legitimize (or not) the conceptual and methodological strategies available to researchers.

Multi- and inter-disciplinary enterprises, it is proposed, are derivative from the pre-existing disciplines and as such, we may add, are a part of the general economy of academic exchange, without necessarily engaging with the university’s outside (Nowotny, Gibbon & Scott, 2001: 181). Even when an interdisciplinary project thus construed does not eventually crystallize into an independent discipline, though Nowotny et al. (2001) argue such is the dominant tendency, it is always organized in a hegemonic fashion of a unified theoretical whole governed by a set of fundamental axioms or overriding concerns – notwithstanding, of course, the plurality of resources it may draw on and colonize in turn. One difficulty, then, for an academic project with political ambitions consists in finding a way of breaking down the hegemony of the institutionalized knowledge, and inter- and multi-disciplinarity, at least as presented by Hark (2007), offer little hope of actually meeting this objective. In what follows, I will sketch out a brief outline of trans-disciplinarity conceived broadly alongside Deleuzian lines, as a possible methodological alternative.

The first thing to note is that Deleuzian ‘trans-‘ does not refer primarily to a relationship between the pre-established structures, say of academic disciplines, but rather a relation between a structure (conceptual, political, institutional, etc.) and its outside (Alliez, 2011: 38) Such relationship is par excellence dynamic and it works towards destabilizing of the former as a power centre. Neither is it a question of “adding a higher dimension” to what we already have, which could consist in the creation of an interdisciplinary program with a view of imposing new sovereign significations on the pre-existing fields (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987: 6). Instead, the aim of Deleuze and Guattari’s trans-disciplinary machine is a production of an entirely non-foundational knowledge. Their second joint project, A Thousand Plateaus, is itself an attempt at thinking a non-foundational philosophy. The book does not consist of chapters, but of what they call plateaus – assemblages of observations on different matters spanning from psychoanalysis, linguistics, politics, etc., to even geology, which are to be read in no distinct order, thus potentially forming a wide range of different conceptual connections.

Deleuze and Guattari portray the processes of knowledge production in charmingly quirky terms borrowed from botany. The concepts operative in different disciplines are defined as rhizomes, subject to the laws of organic growth, which see them constantly forming new heterogeneous connections, or strategic bio-alliances, with other organic entities. “[…] any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be. This is very different from the tree or root, which plots a point, fixes an order.” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987: 7) The arborescent, or tree-like, organization of knowledge – proceeding from the fixed foundation-stem - is for them an artificial, and the most unwelcome blockage to the natural processes of proliferation of discourses, which despite its pretences itself feeds on the rhizomatic modes of production (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987: 11). As a consequence, each chapter-plateau making up A Thousand Plateaus stages a rhizomatic dismantling of different foundational structures of knowledge, without offering any newly fixed order in their stead. Their point, after all, is to liberate the creative energies, as much in the conceptual as in the material sense.

Rather than exploring Deleuze’s late philosophy in any depth, I would just like to highlight what could be an interesting application of the rhizomatic model of knowledge to our current project. Going rhizomatic about gender or sexuality is by all means compatible with what Katha, following Fish (1991), describes in an earlier note as a ‘radical interdisciplinarity,’ which, she says, consciously “relates to broader social and political questions and struggles.” The rhizomatic manner of relating to such political concerns would perhaps consist in engaging the academic apparatus with the real-world language games and actual political practices, by way of a perpetual process of cross-interrogation, rather than the establishing of a new disciplinary platform. While the institutional framework remains the material basis of social research, the absorption of concepts and strategies from outside of the university could set it in a motion of un-founding and work towards new creative transformations. The politics of the academia could thus find a sensible counter-balance.

An interesting example of going transdisciplinary about sex is furnished by a recent paper by Stella Sandford (2011). Her positive conclusion notwithstanding (that sex should be something akin to Kant’s transcendental illusion), it is interesting to note just how she carries out her investigation. Sandford assumes, and rightly so, that concepts operative in distinct disciplines are not their sole property. Instead, they usually derive from common linguistic practices, which vary across linguistic communities. Should a concept be employed by more than one discipline, as it is the case with sex, then this also causes further semantic divergence. Sandford traces some of such differences and maps on them a series of more or less known attempts at defining sex. Eventually, she develops a new critical concept of sex which draws on, and accounts for these various tendencies.

Something along the lines of Sandford’s own project, that is to say, a process of forging connections leading away from the institutionalized ways of talking about inequality, gender, etc., could not only enrich our understanding of the issues in question, but also, potentially, prove more promising politically. It is more than certain that the pattern described here overlaps in significant respects with other conceptions of a range of x-disciplinarities, of which I am not aware, as I think it does with the ‘radical interdisciplinarity’ suggested by Katha. The general upshot is therefore not to claim the primacy of transdisciplinarity, but simply to draw attention to the methodological strategies implicit in the work of Deleuze and Guattari, which could be of assistance in formulating our own research agenda.



Alliez, É. (2011) Rhizome (With no return), Radical Philosophy, 167, pp. 36-42.

Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987) A Thousand Plateaus, London: University of Minnesota Press.

Hark, S. (2007) Magical Sign. On the Politics of Inter- and Transdisciplinarity, Graduate Journal of Social Science, 4(2), pp. 11-33.

Nowotny, H., Scott, P., Gibbons, M. (2003) Introduction: ‘Mode 2’ Revisited: The New Production of Knowledge, Minerva, 41(3), pp. 179-194.

Sandford, S. (2011) Sex: A transdisciplinary concept, Radical Philosophy, 165, pp. 23-30.

April 29, 2013

A Queer Salon with Open Barbers


On June 17th we are hosting a Queer Salon at Warwick, in the open space of the Reinvention Centre at Westwood.

The event brings together different traditions of the ‘salon’, providing space for cultural exchange, intellectual debate and the cutting of hair. All are welcome to join in the scheduled events (to be announced nearer the time), to lounge around with a queer text, to meet others for discussion, to enjoy a cup of tea and a piece of cake, and/or to get their hair cut by the wonderful Greygory and Felix from Open Barbers.

Open Barbers have the following manifesto:

‘We offer a personalised and warm haircutting experience with a queer and trans friendly attitude. We seek to promote the diversity of identities in society and celebrate people’s appearance in the way they wish to be seen.’

As well as running a weekly evening salon and social space in London, Open Barbers take part in queer events such as festivals. I met them at the Shout festival in Birmingham where they were happily received by a diverse range of passers-by who were visiting the community venue the midlands arts centre (the mac) and were tempted by a free haircut (the lovely cakes and biscuits may also have played a part) and conversation. Here Open Barbers were part of a programme of events around queer kinship curated by Birmingham artist Lisa Metherell.

Like fellow radical snippers The Haircut Before the Party (from whom I received a funky crop at Fierce Festival in 2012 and who offer haircuts in exchange for conversation) this is a haircut with a difference. I think the difference is in the politics.

For Open Barbers, the heteronormativity of the mainstream hairdressers or barber’s shop is made explicit, and their approach is characterised by a radical openness, challenging the gendered assumptions of hair/style. Cutting hair and getting your hair cut are social, intimate, embodied experiences: the hair salon is often a space of strangers’ bodies in close encounters where unfamiliar hands, faces and heads are reflected around a room of multiple mirrors. The lights are often bright. There are un/familiar smells of products and people. A room full of gazes, performances, identities, conformities, resistances, pains and pleasures – all deeply gendered in multiple and complex ways. Open Barbers don’t attempt to hide or neutralise these political dimensions but to play with them, build on them, understand them, celebrate them.

The act of the haircut is also an exchange. The labour of the haircut is usually exchanged for money. There are other less explicit exchanges: of physical care and attention, conversation, sympathy, empathy, ideas, opinions, dis/agreement, mis/understanding, knowledges. These are of course always framed and shaped by their context: most commonly the context of the capitalist, heteronormative haircut. Within this frame, particularly for queer subjects, some things cannot be spoken; some identities are invisible, some knowledges are inadmissible and some ideas would not be understood, should we dare to share them.

For Open Barbers, these multiple politics and problematics of exchange are out in the open. Visitors are invited to pay what they can afford for the cut, and the queer openness permits some otherwise unspeakable thoughts, ideas, desires to be shared. Greygory began Open Barbers as ‘Queer Cuts Exchange’, explaining:

‘I would offer alternative haircuts and others offered something back. Hair cutting is something I really enjoy, and it was important for me that people reciprocate with something that they enjoy too. The exchange happened not based on skill level or some notion of equivalent value, but on the basis of people’s enjoyment’ (Zoya, 2011).

We hope many of you will come and join us on June 17th. There will be opportunities to book a haircut, come and join a scheduled activity, or just pop in to hang out in the salon and get a trim if the mood takes you and Greygory and Felix are not already booked up!

I am growing mine in anticipation …


Zoya (2011) Open Barbers is Styling Genderqueer London - Interview with Open Barbers ,13 September 2011, Dapper Q


See a short film about Open Barbers at http://vimeo.com/56508433

April 25, 2013

The Myth of Pedagogy

The inequitous and iniquitous logics of contemporary neoliberal educational reform are underpinned by an ideology of progress. This manifests in policy narratives scripted around ‘the future’, emphasising the importance of aspiration and becoming. These (often emotive) narratives exert tremendous hold on us and as in our teaching and research we are implicated in progressive systemic and pedagogic practices. As the work of French philosopher Jacques Rancière (1991) demonstrates, the logic of social and political progress is underpinned by explicative pedagogies and the temporal delay they create between not knowing and knowing. According to Rancière (1991: 6-7), a hierarchy of intelligences is thereby generated and sustained via;

... the myth of pedagogy, the parable of a world divided into knowing minds and ignorant ones, ripe minds and immature ones, the capable and the incapable, the intelligent and the stupid. The explicator’s special trick consists of this double inaugural gesture. On the one hand, he (sic) decrees the absolute beginning; it is only now that the act of learning will begin. On the other, having thrown a veil of ignorance over everything that is to be learnt, he appoints himself to the task of lifting it.

This assumed incapacity of the many to understand, ‘divides the world into two’ (p 7) and ensures that emancipation will always rest in the hands of the knowing and learned: and always, significantly, in the future. ‘We know, in fact’, Rancière (1991: 117) tells us, ‘that explication is not only the stultifying weapon of pedagogues but the very bond of the social order’. The only way to challenge the hegemony of this pedagogic relation is to critique processes of explication and propose an alternative model of intellectual capacity that destroys the temporal delay, the distance of inequality. Rancière does this by reframing equality as something to be declared at the outset rather than achieved as an endpoint. Put simply, all must be considered to have equal intellectual capacity. The declaration of equality as a starting point rather than (endlessly) postponed aspiration or goal enacts a critique of progressive pedagogy and the systems and practices dependent on an ideology of progressivism. At the same time, the sort of critique and intervention necessary in relation to the contemporary crisis of higher education must resist the temporal flow of ‘progress’ and the lure of an imagined ‘future’.

Can we begin to think and practise this? What might our planning, pedagogies and curricula look and feel like?  



Rancière, J (1991) The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation, Stanford University Press, California.

April 23, 2013

Thoughts on an OSL workshop

A guest post by Dr Nick Monk

Thanks very much for inviting me to facilitate this session, it was a pleasure to work with all of you, and it’s really interesting for me to read these observations. It was one of those very stimulating workshops, for me, in which I felt I learned a great deal from the participants, both about the subject matter and about myself as an academic. It was clear to me that my understanding of gendered knowledges was extremely limited, and was confined by my own disciplines, by the broader culture in which I operate, and by ‘who I am’. In response to this, if I was to repeat this workshop and if I was, again, to choose the bulk of the material, I would include more on masculinity, and more that sought to invite more explicitly the flourishing of non-western perspectives. I think this from Anna really hits the mark:

“The debate in my group focused on the various exclusions in feminist discourse: the way mainstream feminism is really white, Western, middle-class feminism, and the way gender studies in the academy often (though certainly not always) reflect this hegemony. It’s all about whose voices are heard – by who gets the most seats at the discursive table – and this is of course determined by existing power structures. This project’s ‘radicality’ has to be about acknowledging the existing power structures within the academy – both in teaching and in research (e.g. disciplinary boundaries) – and then trying as best we can to get away from them, to re-imagine the university.”

Having said this, I couldn’t help but think, amid the generally welcome critique of liberal/enlightenment/humanist values, that without these phenomena we probably wouldn’t have been together in that room with the freedom to debate in the kind of detail, with the kind of richness of perspective, that we did. Which, of course adds a further layer of complexity.

I thought also that the session ‘worked’ really well at a practical level, and I was delighted with the range of creative responses to the materials with which the participants were confronted. The depth and breadth of ideas generated and/or aired in the session seemed to me exponentially larger than had we simply organised a discussion, and I felt that everyone had an opportunity to contribute. The differences between what was produced by the two groups using the same materials exemplified this, and the exchange of views at the end, I thought, set the stage for debates to come. My only regret was that we didn’t have time for the ‘embodied’ stage of the workshop. For me this kind of work is at its best when participants are engaged in work that ‘performs’ (in the broadest sense) elements of the intellectual dynamic. In this case it seems to me that the strength of the relationship between embodiment and gender is so strong that the session could only have been powerfully enhanced by participants moving into tableaux. Husserl’s sense of grasping an idea, or object, as it simultaneously grips us is germane, here, as – according to the phenomenologists – we necessarily ‘understand’ or ‘know’ with our bodies as well as our brains - http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/husserl/

I’m really pleased, finally, that people have responded in the way they have, and Katharina’s idea of a ‘different’ OSL session is the kind of thing I hope for most when I run work like this.

Thanks again,

Nick Monk.

Dr Monk is an Assistant Professor in English and Comparative Literary Studies and Deputy Director of the Institute of Advanced Teaching and Learning, University of Warwick.

April 22, 2013

Tyrannosaur – power and domestic violence

It may seem a little odd to be writing a blog post about a film released in 2011, but Tyrannosaur has remained with me as being an important and successful film since I watched it all that time ago… and with our recent discussions at GK towers around power, it sprang to mind as a film which gives us a very true, albeit very literal depiction of power in relationships – and complements the activist-orientated elements of the GK project.

Paddy Considine (ace) directs and Olivia Colman (very ace) plays Hannah the main female character. It is really difficult to watch in places, purely because it’s portrayal of domestic violence and abuse is so true to life and realistic. I actually thought I might not be able to watch it through to the end, but I did - although I did have to sit in a dark room afterwards to process what I’d just seen.

I really loved that it addressed some of the stereotypes and myths surrounding domestic abuse – something that I didn’t expect when I sat down to watch it. Hannah, the survivor, is a middle class woman (not working class) living in a 'nice' house in suburbia (not a council estate) - her husband is a pillar of the community, liked by everyone - good job, nice car, the perfect husband. Hannah can't speak to anybody about the violence, because who would believe her?

I can’t tell you how many women I have worked with who’s abusers are loved by the neighbours and community and are charming everywhere but behind closed doors, putting doubt in the minds of everybody that he is actually a perpetrator – very often including his victim.

I also really like the comments on class (and power) throughout the film. Hannah builds a relationship with Joseph, a 'working class' man, it's a difficult relationship but a positive one and there are lots of really lovely moments.

Remarkably, and I only saw this recently... in IMDB's blurb on the film, domestic violence isn't mentioned - the film is described as being about Joseph, his self destruction and subsequent redemption. Interesting…

There are probably many other themes and issues within the film that are worthy of discussion; it’s a while since I watched it and these are just the themes prevalent enough to have remained within the depths of my murky memory. I just know that throughout the film, I was impressed by the sensitive and very real way domestic violence was dealt with and portrayed. It’s a beautiful film.

I won’t go in to any more detail in case I ruin it for anybody; but if anyone else has seen it, I’d be really interested to hear your views… and if you haven’t, I would recommend you give it a go.

April 19, 2013

Experiential Learning for Academic Credit

The main theme that I am working on is based on an idea I had that students should be able to integrate their feminist activism with their academic learning. On top of that idea and based on my experiences of working part time at the Career Service I thought about the ways in which students might be able to get practical experiences in women centred or feminist organizations and again integrate them into their academic learning. Many universities offer placements to undergraduates through an intercalculated year but making it an integral part of an MA offering is less usual.

In starting to do research into the different models of experiential learning for academic credit I came across practices in the USA that were embedded into the secondary education system by the Bush administration in the 1990s. Wikipedia provides a pretty good overview of the different forms in which experiential learning can take, specifically community based learning (CBL) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Service-learning . I have also read an interesting paper that provides a typology of the different types of experiential learning and thinks about their usefulness for those leading Sociology courses see here Experiential Learning in Sociology

It seems to me that having something like CBL or other forms of experiential learning embedded in our module would be a fantastic opportunity for those interested in Gender, feminism and sexualities because of the lived nature of these areas of study.

What do you think?


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